AMITE — At 82, most rodeo cowboys have hung up their spurs for good, pegged their hats for the last time, and are largely content to sit back in their rocking chairs, reminisce about their years on the road riding and handling often ornery bulls and horses, and contemplate their final rides into the sunset.
Rick Young, of Tickfaw, a hall of fame rodeo clown and bull fighter, is certainly not a cowboy who fits that scenario. On June 17-18, he once again donned his makeup and costume and stepped out onto the dirt of the arena to continue a career that has spanned 62 years. For Young, this rodeo was special because he was performing before his friends, neighbors and many fans in his own backyard at the sixth annual Tangipahoa Parish Pro Rodeo.
The rodeo, held at the Florida Parishes Arena, featured bareback riding, barrel racing, bull riding, calf roping and team roping. Produced by Rockin S. Rodeo Productions, the rodeo attracted nearly sellout crowds to the 2,000-seat arena.
In addition to the typical entertainment offered by a rodeo, the event was an opportunity to raise money for Quad Area Homeless Veterans. At the rodeo’s Saturday session, the homeless veterans group was presented a $2,500 donation. The group also raised funds through a raffle at the rodeo.
While cheers rang out for all of the various performers at the Friday night session of the rodeo, the loudest shouts came when Young was introduced. Young, who has spent most of his adult life riding the rodeo circuit, said he will keep on climbing into the arena into the foreseeable future. “When will my career come to an end? Only the good Lord knows, and he will tell me when it is time to quit,” Young said.
Young was in his element discussing life in the rodeo world with Bobby Smith, of Loranger, the head of Rockin S. Rodeo, and Earl Klein, of Klein Bros. Pro Rodeo Stock Contractors, of Clinton, who provided the bucking horses and bulls for the Amite rodeo.
Smith said about 200 riders from throughout the United States and two from France competed in the two-night event. Smith, who produces two rodeos a year, said he takes special pride in bringing the rodeo to Tangipahoa Parish.
In cooperation with the Kiwanis Clubs of Hammond, Amite and Ponchatoula, children visiting the rodeo received free activity books. Smith said the goal of giving away the books is to cultivate fans for the future.
Smith said rodeo is still relevant to many people and that young fans are still interested in the sport. He said he uses social media to attract the younger audience since that mode of communication has become so popular, especially with the young.
Klein, whose company was founded by his father 51 years ago, provides stock for shows throughout the nation. He has provided bucking horses and bulls for the prestigious Las Vegas rodeo, which is the unofficial culmination of the year’s rodeo circuit.
Klein said his family typically maintains about 25 bulls and 100 horses at their Clinton headquarters. He also works with partners in Kansas and Florida. His company is kept constantly busy trucking bulls and horses to rodeos throughout the nation.
While the cowboys who rode the broncos and bulls, the calf ropers and the cowgirls who race around barrels were the main attraction of the rodeo, much of the attention was focused on Young, who seemed to be everywhere in the arena area greeting people and reveling in the rodeo atmosphere.
Young, who grew up in Jefferson Parish, said he wanted to be a football player at LSU. However, he is quick to add, he was too small to play collegiate football and he drifted over toward rodeo. He spent a year at LSU but said he wasn’t much of a student as he spent most of his time learning how to be a rodeo cowboy. He left LSU and enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana University, where he earned a degree in animal husbandry.
But rodeo was where he wanted to be, so he began a career riding bareback horses and bulls. At the time, rodeo wasn’t a full-time profession, and he said he also worked construction and in the oil fields between his rides at weekend rodeos.
Young recalled that at one rodeo, the clown, or bull fighter as they are also known, didn’t show up and he was asked by the rodeo producer to fill in as a clown. He said although he kept riding, he also was doing the clown act. Later, the producer asked him to become a clown full time, and that was the beginning of his career. “I told him that I would do it but that he had to pay me more money because I was making money riding. He came up with the money, and that was it. … I was a clown and bull fighter,” he said.
There is much more to being a rodeo clown than entertaining the crowd. The clowns have the serious responsibility of protecting riders when they are thrown from a bull’s back. They must fearlessly engage the bull while the rider escapes from the beast.
Young has been married to his wife, Bernie, for 50 years, and he said the two of them spent many years living in a travel trailer and going from one rodeo to the next.
As a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, he had the opportunity to be a part of major rodeos throughout the nation. During the early part of his career, he adopted the name “The Ragin’ Cajun.” Several years ago, as the years crept by, he changed that name to “The Agin’ Cajun.”
As the years went by, his name became easily recognizable on the professional rodeo circuit, and recognition came with it. Young was named the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Clown of the Year at one point in his career, and he later was inducted into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. Young became especially adept at being “the man in the barrel,” the cowboy who jumps into a huge rubber barrel to escape from a raging bull. For his prowess in the barrel, he was named four times as the “Man in the Can” award winner sponsored by Coors Beer.
Recently, he was invited to Las Vegas as one of five rodeo performers who would be presented with a lifetime achievement award. “I didn’t win the award, but I had a good time in Las Vegas anyway,” he said.
Earlier this year, a poster artist created a poster featuring Young and his new name, “The Agin’ Cajun.” The poster was on sale at the Amite rodeo, and Young said he will donate any proceeds from the poster to the Quad Area Homeless Veterans.
For all the joy that rodeo has brought him, Young concedes being in the arena with bulls that are supposed to be mean is a dangerous game. He has been gored, suffered broken bones, endured countless serious bruises and abrasions and has had to be “sewn up” numerous times.
“I’m held together with stitches I’ve been sewn up so many times,” he said. “It’s a tough sport, but if you are going to be good at it, you just have to put up with the certainty of some injuries,” he said.
Young sees a bright future for rodeo and said of the promise of the sport, “I wish I was just getting into it now. The big rodeo in Las Vegas has committed to putting $67 million into rodeo over the next 10 years. The rodeo riders today are making very good money, and that is attracting a lot of new talent. There are now rodeo schools all over the place, and more and more riders are getting involved. There’s now the Professional Bull Riders Association, and they are on television regularly. There’s a great future in rodeo.”
He’s not quite ready to say goodbye to the sport he loves. At one time, he trained and bred horses on his 80-acre ranch in Tickfaw but said he now tends to only a small group of horses. He said he takes joy in promoting rodeo and being a friend and mentor to riders.
Young said he has no regrets about his career choice.
“Rodeo is a good, clean sport. … Families travel together, and you get to make many friends around the country,” he said. “We have some great people in rodeo, and one of the things I miss, as my time in the sport diminishes, is meeting with all the rodeo friends we have made. It was a living, but it was more than that. … It was about working with some great people and enjoying their friendship.”